Political: U.S. the Sole World Power?
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(1), 8-9. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

It may be a mistake to think of the U.S. as the sole remaining world power now that the Soviet Union has dissolved. Perhaps the most significant political development in the latter twentieth-century world scene is the growing power of international agencies. Such agencies as the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations peace-keeping forces, the Bank for International Settlements and the 108-member-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, have exercised increasing influence and authority in adjudicating international disputes and integrating the nations of the world into an infant world monetary system. Most recently, and maybe of equal importance, is the recent meeting of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which called for discussion on "practically every question that has been raised about the influence of humankind on the environment." What may be emerging is a new, tentative, but highly promising, world federalism. A global trade agency is negotiating away protectionism among farm states. A world economic coordinating mechanism is synchronizing a series of fast-moving reforms, from Mexico to Moscow. Though such global consciousness is quite in vogue, perhaps the most interesting and promising contribution of the Bush Administration to the growing interdependence of nations is the attempt "to keep these efforts from becoming captured by the standard Eurocratic culture of technique." [Warsh, David (1992, March 11). It's Time for the U.S. to weigh in on a global scale. The Washington Post, p.F3.]

National borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant. "Economic, technological and environmental trends have punched gaping holes in the once solid walls dividing country from country. Powers that were until recently the sole prerogative of national governments are shifting to multinational bodies and to businesses, individuals and innumerable citizen's groups of all kinds." In other words, the kinds of technological developments (e.g., telecommunications) and crises (the environment) that have replaced the threat of communism have made the idea of national, political sovereignty a problematic conception, at least as that has been understood in the past. The integration of the global economy has resulted in multinational firms that are virtually identical, whether they be American, French or Japanese. Moreover, environmental trends, both regional and global, share similar characteristics--"They all pose potentially serious losses to national economies" and are "immune to solution by one or a few countries" exactly because they reflect global, not national, questions.

Further evidence of the "global village" can be seen in how the U.N. is coming to make distinctions between domestic and international affairs. There was a time not long ago when how a nation treated its own citizens was no one else's concern. But with the advent of human rights into international law, even the notion of "domestic affairs" is up for grabs. U.N. supervision of national elections in Haiti and Nicaragua would have been unthinkable only a few years back and the delivery of food and medicines to Kurdish Iraqis over Baghdad's objections was precedent setting. The tendency toward the pooling of sovereignty, however, is not without its problematic features. But despite resistance to the idea, the reality is that "as borders become more and more porous, security is seen to rest more and more on international, rather than national, conditions. It is also clear that no ability to project power beyond borders or to enforce order within them can protect a regime that cannot manage its economy and natural resources." [Mathews, J. (1991, August 22). Giving way to global concerns. The Washington Post, p. A23.]


American society faces a "new world order" with many different challenges. Mathews points out the growing influence of international agencies in keeping order. Lester Thurow points out in Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe, and America (NY: William Morrow, 1992), that the contest for world supremacy has shifted from a military contest to an economic one. In this contest, no one country will tower over another. Rather the action will be transnational in the form of trading blocs (the Pacific Rim, NAFTA, and Europe). American institutions must redefine their role within this new order. This impetus puts more pressure on colleges and universities to redefine curricular programs to prepare students to function in a global society, rather than a purely national one.

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